High School Theater to present “Zombie Prom,” kitschy off-Broadway production set in the 1950s. The musical will be filmed this winter and air as a drive-in movie at the River Campus in the spring.
By Sierra Smith, Communications Specialist
Gravestones adorned with ghoulish goblins poked out of the dirt of the Edgehill lawn. Bright green and black balloons tied to the front step rails fluttered in the cool breeze along with matching streamers woven into the branches of nearby trees.
“It just hit me in the middle of the night, given the musical choice, I had to do a Halloween-themed reveal,” High School Theater Director Lily Palmer said.
In 2019, when announcing “Legally Blonde the Musical,” the entire Auditorium was decorated hot pink. During her first year at USN, the space became a circus with popcorn and dart throwing to reveal “Side Show” as the 2018 musical. Palmer is known throughout campus for her elaborate production announcements. As a crowd gathered in anticipation, guesses and speculation buzzed through the air.
Dressed in an iconic 1950s poodle skirt, Palmer had stumped everyone. She passed out the green and black balloons, one per guest, informing attendees that one of the balloons held the show's title.
The crowd popped their balloons; a student held up a scrap of paper with “Zombie Prom” written across it.
“It’s like ‘Grease’ with a zombie,” Palmer explained. “We’re going to channel ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show,’ and there are going to be a lot of quirky references; it’s just going to be really fun and campy.”
“Zombie Prom,” written by John Dempsey with music by Dana P. Rowe, tells the classic forbidden love story of bad boy Jonny and heroine protagonist Toffee with one small twist — Toffee turns Jonny into a zombie. Chaos, hijinx, and a high dose of hilarious melodrama ensue to drive an engaging show that Palmer noted will highlight the strengths of High School seniors who’ve dedicated the past four years to performing, while still challenging them in their final year as USN thespians.
Though “Zombie Prom” was not initially planned as the annual High School musical, it’s an ideal fit for presenting a production while mitigating the spread of coronavirus.
“Ms. Palmer has spent the spring, summer, and fall rethinking what theater looks like at USN this year. For an art that depends on group singing, projecting our voices, and large crowds, it looked like a wash,” Arts Department Co-Chair and Technical Theater Teacher Jim Manning said. “By stepping outside the box, [Palmer] has been able to make something totally new. She’s worked around most of the challenges, and at the same time, she’s created a fun project to look forward to in uncertain times.”
Rather than present the show live, Palmer will turn the musical into a film to show as a drive-in movie — just like those of the 1950s — at the River Campus with the help of the entire theater department, cast, tech crew, and a few supportive parents. It’s a small cast; the original playbill lists 12. The show takes place entirely at a high school, which means a set already exists within the walls of 2000 Edgehill. “Zombie Prom” is also set dangerously close to a nuclear power plant, so if actors need to wear masks during filming, it won’t require any additional explanation to fit into the story’s existing plot.
The performing arts have suffered mightily due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and just like Manning, Palmer hopes this production will offer students, teachers, and arts supporters something positive to focus on.
“This means everything, and not just for the students, for all of us. I needed this. Creative people are happiest when they’re being creative,” Palmer shared. “In a world that is just so consumed with fear, we all need that happiness; we need that light and that common goal to work toward together.”
Student Theater Guild Co-President Allison Lindsey ’21 shared her enthusiasm for the upcoming production.
“I’m super excited for “Zombie Prom. Obviously, it’s unfortunate that everything has to change so much for our senior musical, but I have immense confidence that Ms. Palmer and our theater community will pull through with something amazing, as usual,” Allison said. “ It will definitely be a great opportunity to explore both the giant impact that the arts have on our lives, especially at a time when theater might not be the first thing on the average person’s mind, and the way that the arts can, and do, prevail during times of struggle.”
Auditions will take place over Zoom upon returning from Thanksgiving break with casting announced before Winter Break. The cast will rehearse throughout January and begin filming in February. Drive-in viewings of “Zombie Prom” are tentatively set for April after filming and editing have wrapped.